Questions as a framework to analyze dialogue in online chatrooms
Saturday, April 06, 2002 7:58 PM
I have used the emoticon at the end of question one showing that this may be either a statement or a question. Both these questions are important to the reading process as the written text creates a reader’s response.
 How is turn-taking negotiated within chatrooms? What does turn - taking reveal? In face-to-face conversations, people can speak simultaneously (talk over one another) but in chatrooms, only one voice is ‘heard’ (seen) at a time because of the scrolling effect of the computer screen. In a chatroom where there are more than two ‘voices’, there are two primary functions of turn-taking that need addressing. Firstly, participants need to know when it is appropriate to ‘speak’ if he or she wishes to be heard and responded to. This is further broken down into two more functions of turn taking. The ‘speaker’ is either addressing one particular participant in the chatroom or the ‘speaker’ is addressing the group. For example, by referring to something someone said in particular e.g. ‘how is 3+3 equal to 11’ or ‘speaking’ to the group, e.g. ‘whats the Mets/Bull score?’ the ‘speaker’ is identifying where he or she is placing ‘talk’. Secondly, in casual conversation between people ‘there has to be a way of determining who the next speaker is to be’ Eggins & Slade p. 25). In chatrooms, however, there is no protocol which indicates who the next speaker will be. The next speaker is who ever hit their return key next. Turn taking will be analysed and discussed throughout this work.
 With the taking away of many identifying cues of participants (gender, nationality, social and economical standing, age etc) are issues of gender, nationality, social and economical standing, age as prevalent as in face-to-face talk? Does the chatroom milieu provide a pure communication space, where only words have meaning, and the author’s significance is only, the words produced.
 How is electronic chat reflective of current social discourse? I will examine whether eChat and in-person conversation appear to break down barriers between people of gender, nationality, social and economical standing, and age. Some studies have shown that barriers still exist and are created by the authors themselves. For example, it was found in one particular study that, female users who wrote themselves into a virtual community, did so, in an imagined social space very much defined by their experiences in a patriarchal culture. As a result their discourse patterns were ‘gendered’; meaning that the female users were less participatory than their male counter parts, and often silent. (Dietrich, 1997: p. 181)
 Is meaning constructible within chatrooms? In this study I will examine whether eChat is a vehicle to assimilate and exchange information or are the words on the screen too random to produce a decipherable message?
 From a brief study of this chatroom I would claim that the reader who writes is the final producer of meaning. If a writer is not a reader then their writing is not part of the dialogue.
 My research question which guides my exploration of this case study centres on intent: ‘Does a chatter have a discourse intent when he or she enters a chatroom?’ I am asking this question because of a peculiar utterance that is found throughout this chatroom I have used for this case study. When I looked over the transcript for this chat I was struck by the fact that some people may go into a chatroom with more than a purpose of entertainment. This is contrary to my original belief that chatrooms are so casual that people have no intended purpose more than entertainment.
 My first question concerns whether a moderated chatroom provides a setting for ‘natural’ chatting. My assumption before analysing this room was that moderation equals censorship. Knowing someone will correct or change what we wish to say could take away the freedom of chatting.
 My second question of interest in this chatroom is whether the number of chatters in a room will affect the conversation and will it make the dialogue easier to understand?